Swiss vote to ban minarets fuels fear of Islam, By Tariq Ramadan

It wasn’t meant to go this way. For months we had been told that the efforts to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland were doomed. The last surveys suggested around 34 percent of the Swiss population would vote for this shocking initiative. Last Friday, in a meeting organized in Lausanne, more than 800 students, professors and citizens were in no doubt that the referendum would see the motion rejected, and instead were focused on how to turn this silly initiative into a more positive future.

Today that confidence was shattered, as 57 percent of the Swiss population did as the Union Democratique du Centre (UDC) had urged them to — a worrying sign that this populist party may be closest to the people’s fears and expectations. For the first time since 1893 an initiative that singles out one community, with a clear discriminatory essence, has been approved in Switzerland. One can hope that the ban will be rejected at the European level, but that makes the result no less alarming. What is happening in Switzerland, the land of my birth?

There are only four minarets in Switzerland, so why is it that it is there that this initiative has been launched? My country, like many in Europe, is facing a national reaction to the new visibility of European Muslims. The minarets are but a pretext — the UDC wanted first to launch a campaign against the traditional Islamic methods of slaughtering animals but were afraid of testing the sensitivity of Swiss Jews, and instead turned their sights on the minaret as a suitable symbol.
Every European country has its specific symbols or topics through which European Muslims are targeted. In France it is the headscarf or burka; in Germany, mosques; in Britain, violence; cartoons in Denmark; homosexuality in the Netherlands — and so on. It is important to look beyond these symbols and understand what is really happening in Europe in general and in Switzerland in particular: while European countries and citizens are going through a real and deep identity crisis, the new visibility of Muslims is problematic — and it is scary.

At the very moment Europeans find themselves asking, in a globalizing, migratory world, “What are our roots?”, “Who are we?”, “What will our future look like?”, they see around them new citizens, new skin colors, new symbols to which they are unaccustomed.

Over the last two decades Islam has become connected to so many controversial debates — violence, extremism, freedom of speech, gender discrimination, forced marriage, to name a few — it is difficult for ordinary citizens to embrace this new Muslim presence as a positive factor. There is a great deal of fear and a palpable mistrust. Who are they? What do they want? And the questions are charged with further suspicion as the idea of Islam being an expansionist religion is intoned. Do these people want to Islamize our country?

The campaign against the minarets was fuelled by just these anxieties and allegations. Voters were drawn to the cause by a manipulative appeal to popular fears and emotions. Posters featured a woman wearing a burka with the minarets drawn as weapons on a colonized Swiss flag. The claim was made that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with Swiss values. (The UDC has in the past demanded my citizenship be revoked because I was defending Islamic values too openly.) Its media strategy was simple but effective. Provoke controversy wherever it can be inflamed. Spread a sense of victimhood among the Swiss people: we are under siege, the Muslims are silently colonizing us and we are losing our very roots and culture. This strategy worked. The Swiss majority are sending a clear message to their Muslim fellow citizens: we do not trust you and the best Muslim for us is the Muslim we cannot see.

Who is to be blamed? I have been repeating for years to Muslim people that they have to be positively visible, active and proactive within their respective western societies. In Switzerland, over the past few months, Muslims have striven to remain hidden in order to avoid a clash. It would have been more useful to create new alliances with all these Swiss organizations and political parties that were clearly against the initiative. Swiss Muslims have their share of responsibility but one must add that the political parties, in Europe as in Switzerland have become cowed, and shy from any courageous policies towards religious and cultural pluralism. It is as if the populists set the tone and the rest follow. They fail to assert that Islam is by now a Swiss and a European religion and that Muslim citizens are largely “integrated”. That we face common challenges, such as unemployment, poverty and violence — challenges we must face together. We cannot blame the populists alone — it is a wider failure, a lack of courage, a terrible and narrow-minded lack of trust in their new Muslim citizens.

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  1. A pity that the Swiss have decided to do away with the minaret. This is a vote not only against the basic European value of freedom of expression, but also against European culture. One has only to look at that grand masterpiece built by King Ludwig II, the Neuschwanstein (New Swan Stone) castle in the Bavarian Alps of Southern Germany, to realise the profound influence exerted by Islamic architecture on the European Neo-Romanticist tradition upon which this castle has been built. Just look at those beautiful spires rising from this fairytale castle which very closely resembles our minarets and of which a contemporary poet Robyn Schwartz has this to say:

    Beneath its soaring majestic spires.
    It was the dream of one king not long ago
    That flustered the brow of every fair maiden.
    To build for beauty, hold art above war.

    I only hope this anti-Islamic madness does not creep over to more cultured European nations such as Germany to the extent that they’ll decide to do away with their minarets and in the process their own architectural accomplishments. The only consolation is that the German nation has traditionally not been anti-Islamic or as Islamophobic as some other European nations have been. Their greatest thinker Goethe had a great respect for Islam and even professed his faith in Islam on more than one occasion. Moreover their last king Kaiser Wilhelm II was well known for his friendly attitude towards Muslims and espousing of Muslim causes including his alliance with the Ottoman Caliphate, which is the very reason that the Jews lost no time in getting the Americans on the side of Britain to defeat Germany during the First World War after they had exacted a promise from Britain in the form of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would be handed over to them. And of course this accounted for the hatred many patriotic Germans had for the Jews whom they deemed as having betrayed them, a notion that found expression in the form dolchstoss (Stab in the back). The Jews of course paid dearly for it under Hitler.

    The good thing is that Islam is growing fast in Germany, being spearheaded there by the Turks who were invited there as Guest Workers but many of whom are now citizens enjoying equal rights. And what is good about the Turks is that they are a balanced people who know how to live Islam without antagonising anybody. A second-generation Turk Cem Ozdemir has become the leader of Germany’s Green party that continues to exert such a profound influence in the political life of the country through its advocacy of Peace and Environmental causes. There is even an unofficial German Turkish flag, the Deuturk Fahne comprising of the red, gold and black tricolour of Germany with a star and crescent in the middle red stripe. May this concord between the twain continue for long and may we see more beautiful minarets adorning the lovely skies of Deutschland.

  2. “Tariq Ramadan has been a leading Muslim figure i Switzerland trying to promote understanding and integration. But some months ago he lost caste by showing double standards to please the Swiss Muslims. I find his analysis unsatisfactory. He does not focus sufficiently on the implications of a poster which has now become famous, showing in part a minaret as a weapon and a burqa-clad female. The former symbolises Islamic militancy, the latter symbolises oppression of females and backwardness. Islamophobia is not the only problem facing the Muslims in the West

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